far away, deep inside: Devra Freelander at Circa Gallery
Posted November 19th, 2019 by Russ White
The Northeast gallery presents a solo show of the Brooklyn-based artist, who passed away tragically this summer, on view through December 20th.
Geology is the story of slow violence: of tectonic plates shoving mountains skyward, of glaciers gouging ruts out of the earth, of water picking a fight with solid rock and winning. The results can be as pretty as a postcard — jagged peaks and rippling lakes, perhaps caught in the fire of a brief, burning sunset — but this is just a moment in a story that spans millennia.
Minimalism is also the product of erosion, as artists strip away the superfluous, boiling down an idea to an utterly simple expression of material or shape, line or color. And so has Devra Freelander done with mountains and icebergs in her solo show at Circa Gallery. far away, deep inside — a collection of sculptures, photos, and a filmed performance — uses color, scale, and sex to ponder permanence. The scale of the show itself is impactful in its spaciousness: almost all of the work hugs the walls, from the delicate steel mountainscapes to the assortment of shards and slabs of fluorescent epoxy resin.
The center of Circa’s large gallery space is left empty, perhaps reflecting an emptiness at the center of the show itself: Freelander lost her life suddenly and tragically just a few months ago in a terrible traffic accident in New York City, where the artist was based and beloved. This show was already in the works, a major solo exhibition at the start of the 28-year-old’s promising career. Circa has done her the kindness of carrying on, with the help of her friends and family, in mounting an exhibition that lets her work stand on its own.
Landscape I (Nick), framed inkjet print, edition of 10, 10 x 8". Collaboration with Gregory Wikstrom. Image courtesy the artist's website.
This was an artist always looking to the horizon. Almost every piece here is a fragment of a landscape, from the metal mountainlines to the close-cropped, hypersaturated (and subtly sexual) photographs. Even the day-glo moon rocks, at first glance just a collection of disparate chunks, are actually the remnants of an earlier public sculpture of a large, luminescent sunrise. These Fluorescent Fragments are like shards of hard candy, their rough edges showing the hammer blows and saw marks that broke them apart. They are records of destruction: placid but violent, precious but plastic, tiny pink and yellow icebergs that will never melt — warm memories of a sunrise long gone, a public sculpture broken asunder (and made available to private collectors).
Fluorescent Fragment series, epoxy resin, dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of the gallery.
These objects are mysterious in their materiality. Their Photoshop-perfect color gradients and unclear provenance make them curious but impassive sculptural artifacts. They don’t give you much. I think, for the casual viewer especially, the show might have suffered from a lack of personal connection if not for the 8-minute video projection that dominates the space. Instead we see Freelander herself, larger than life, executing a performance in the Norwegian Arctic. Beginning with a shot of the sun rising over snow-peaked mountains, the video is a solemn, erotic love letter to this endangered ecosystem, in which the artist connects physically, bodily, with the landscape we are destroying, progressively shedding layers of clothing as she embraces, cradles, and fondles the ice. It is a strange, almost sinister display of sensuality, something akin to a smothering love. “I film myself embracing the polar landscape," Freelander writes, "prostrating myself on glaciers as if making love to them or begging for their forgiveness, while the heat from my body inherently melts the ice beneath me.”
It’s the response of an artist, not an activist; she freely admits the size of her own carbon footprint as both a sculptor and a traveler. This is not self-righteous; it’s self-incriminating. How do we, each of us, grapple with a doom so much larger than our own, one in which we are complicit daily? It’s a doom that can melt mountains even as it passes us by. At the film’s end, the artist — now fully nude — walks calmly into the icy sea and quietly crossfades out, as though folded gently into the water’s flow, leaving us again with a postcard-perfect mountain vista. Is this a zen shrug or a romantic suicide? Or maybe just an appreciation for the scale of nature, so terribly vulnerable to our selfish desires but still so massively powerful over our tiny bodies.
The artist standing in front of Fluorescent Sunrise; epoxy resin, pigment, and steel; 6.75 x 13.5 x .25'; 2017. Image courtesy of the artist's Instagram.
Destruction is at the heart of this show: the destruction of arctic ecosystems, the destruction of an earlier sculpture, and sadly, the sudden destruction of a life. Even the wall text reflects on the loss of memory and the artist’s digital archives, sharing a life lesson about presence and imperfection in the face of loss. But there is no small amount of indestructibility here, too. Some of it takes the form of a lament, as in the Late Capitalist Relic, an iPhone encased in a block of epoxy resin like some unearthed Ice Age artifact. Of course, this future fossil is rendered doubly permanent now that it is frozen in plastic, our own geological legacy (to which the artist herself adds, as do we all).
It’s not all negative, though. Maybe a better word is indomitable: there is joy in the artist’s explosive colors and devious humor. Freelander’s work is strongest at its simplest, when she digs down to just line and color. On Circa’s monolithic black wall hangs a little zip of a mountain range, a 1/4” steel rod bent into a drawing and left hovering a few inches off the wall. The imposing horizon of rock and earth, crunched together over eons, has been simplified and scaled down to a quick line drawing, rendered by the artist’s hand in a single gesture of neon yellow steel. It is rounded and imprecise, as solid as a mountain, as fragile as a heartbeat.
Neon Range 03, steel & enamel, 11 x 29 x 3". Photo courtesy of the gallery.
far away, deep inside is on view through December 20th at Circa Gallery, 1125 Buchanan St NE, Minneapolis. Gallery hours are Tues - Fri 1-6pm, & Sat 11am - 4pm, or by appointment. To view more of the artist's work, visit devrafreelander.com.
Banner image: still from far away, deep inside; projected video; duration: 8:34; 2018.